Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Waiting Game

"We have good clocks in our heads for roughly three minutes," said Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell, a retail consulting firm. "Once we get beyond that, time expands wildly. If somebody waits four and a half minutes and you ask them how long they waited, they'll say 15."

What's Paco talking about? Purchasing groceries of course! But Americans are used to waiting; a recent study finds we spent 48 hours every year just waiting in lines, and not just for groceries.

The top five waits?

#5: fast food restaurants – I guess the line is slow but the food is fast;
#4: airports – to get there faster you have to wait;
#3: hospitals and doctor's offices – I'm sure Michael Moore has something to say about this;
#2: retail stores – even when there's no debut of the iPhone; and
#1: the Dept. of Motor Vehicles – I wonder if Paris Hilton ever waits in line at DMV.

Improvements are being made: a Pittsburgh health clinic installed kiosks that reduce wait times by 80%. Gourmet supermarket chain Whole Foods now uses a single line that cuts wait time from 20 minutes down to four. Some USA airports now offer Clear cards – for $100 a year – that enable travelers to bypass long security lines.

So you might think everyone's in the fast lane now. But not at Disney. MIT Professor Richard Larson – an expert in queue theory – says that Disney understands waiting psychology. According to Larson, "You may be waiting 45 minutes to get to the ride, but the experience starts when you join the line, because of all the distractions and entertainment around you." Right – just like the DMV!

Ultimately, psychology may be the key: in NYC complaints about long waits for elevators plummet when mirrors are installed. Or maybe Apple should just give everyone an iPhone so we can all watch Paris Hilton on Larry King.

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